The M.E.K. was one of the first organizations added to the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations in 1997 (it was removed from the list in 2012). During the 1970s, it was suspected of being behind the assassination of six Americans and the bombings of American companies in Iran. The group’s aim is to the overthrow the current regime in Iran.
An organization with a record of committing atrocities is clearly not one that should ever be entrusted with power in the future, but this hasn’t stopped Bolton, Giuliani, and many others from cheering for them and treating them as if they were Iran’s government-in-waiting. Whatever else it may claim to be, the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK) is still a deranged totalitarian cult steeped in the blood of many innocent people. The Western politicians and officials that lend legitimacy to this group have discredited themselves on all matters relating to Iran.
There have been quite a few former officials, politicians, and retired military officers that have been cheerleading for the MEK over the last few years, but Bolton is one of their oldest and most consistent American supporters. It is a measure of how terrible his judgment is and how fanatical his desire for regime change in Iran is that he has become a reliable booster of a group that most Iranians despise. The MEK may not be on the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations any longer, but it is still a disreputable and despicable group. It is considered a totalitarian cult for good reason.
It is rather incredible that so many former government officials and retired officers have embraced a totalitarian cult as the “alternative” to another country’s government, but it has been going on for the better part of a decade now. All of the MEK’s American boosters have proven that they have such extraordinary bad judgment that they should have no business talking about Iran policy (or any other foreign policy issue), and their continued advocacy on behalf of this awful organization is proof of how easily corrupted our foreign policy debates are. The MEK probably does still engage in terrorism, since its members were reportedly the ones responsible for murdering Iranian scientists a few years back, but there is absolutely no question that they are not and never could be a “viable alternative” to the current government. It is an indictment of Ridge and others like him, including the National Security Advisor, that they are so gullible or so obsessed with regime change that they are willing to make such ridiculous claims in public.
The MEK is a deranged totalitarian cult with no support inside Iran and a record of killing Americans and committing acts of terrorism. It is an ongoing disgrace that American politicians and officials lend this group support and help them to push their dangerous regime change fantasies. It might be tempting to dismiss the MEK’s fans as disreputable opportunists out to make a quick buck (and there is some truth to that), but the problem is that their public embrace of this group has aided the MEK in selling itself as a legitimate opposition group. National Security Advisor John Bolton has been a regular attendee at these events for many years, and while he apparently won’t be attending this year there is no question that he is still on board with the MEK’s goal of regime change.
Now that Bolton is in such an influential position in the Trump administration, his connection with and support for the MEK pose some real dangers for the U.S. He could use his position to funnel misinformation from the MEK to the president to distort U.S. policy in their favor. He might use his position to advocate publicly on behalf of the MEK, and that would give them a de facto endorsement from the administration. Worse still, he could persuade the president that this totalitarian cult is the “real” Iranian opposition, which would simultaneously harm Iranian dissidents and saddle the U.S. with a discredited, deranged cult as its preferred alternative to the Iranian government.
Jeremiah Goulka, former lawyer in the Bush Justice Department and former analyst with the RAND Corporation, discusses his op-ed “MEK and its material supporters in Washington;” a history of the MEK including the group’s founding in 1965, their exile from Iran, and their alliance with Saddam Hussein; Jeremiah’s first-hand account of the MEK’s cult-like practices during his tour of Camp Ashraf in Iraq; US State Department negotiations on the breakup of Camp Ashraf and removing the MEK from the Foreign Terrorist Organization list; and the Treasury Department’s investigation into the source of the MEK’s substantial funding.
Jeremiah Goulka, former analyst at the RAND Corporation, discusses the MEK’s removal from the US State Department’s terrorist group list; it’s transformation into a cult following a disastrous military offensive against post-revolutionary Iran; transitioning MEK members from Iraq’s Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty – then to foreign asylum; and doubts about the MEK’s commitment to “secular, peaceful, and democratic government.”
Mohammad Sahimi is a professor of chemical engineering at USC, Iranian expat and expert on Iranian and US foreign policy and relationship, on his article “Pompeo’s Ridiculous Crocodile Tears for the Iranian People“, about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s speech to exiled Iranian monarchists in Southern California and Zionists, and supporters of MEK.
MEK terrorist group killed more than 17,000 Iranians during their terrorist activities inside Iran and in their war effort against Iran alongside Saddam. This makes Iran, one of the major victims of terrorism in the world.
By Mohsen Hosseini
Assassinating Americans in Iran
The Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (People’s Mujahedin of Iran also known as MEK, MKO or PMOI) was formed on the basis of Marxism and Islam; later Islam was removed from MEK’s doctrine (1). This group, established in 1965 in a bid to overthrow the Shah, harbored an anti-Western and anti-U.S. ideology (2). They also formed alliances with other Iranian Marxist groups such as the Organization of Iranian People’s Fedai Guerrillas.
But both of them had a marginal role in the Shah’s overthrow during the Islamic Revolution which was mainly fought by the supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini. MEK leaders were mostly imprisoned by the Shah’s security apparatus and couldn’t play a direct role in the 1979 Revolution (3).
Due to their intense anti-American approach, MEK killed many US officials, including three officers who had been military advisors under the Shah and three civilian contractors working in Iran (4). They also kidnapped the US Ambassador to Iran (5). They were the main elements for occupying the US embassy in Tehran, and when the embassy staff were released they called it a “surrender” (6).
Although supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini had never sympathized with MEK elements, MEK’s enmity became acute when the head of this group was banned from running for presidential elections, which was followed by a heavy MEK loss at parliamentary elections in 1981. It was then that MEK started its terrorist activitites in Iran; they bombed the headquarters of the Islamic Republic Party, which had won both the presidency and the parliament in landslide victories. The bomb killed Mohammad Beheshti, Head of Iran’s Judicial System who was also the party leader, as well as four cabinet ministers, plus 24 members of Parliament along with 43 other government officials and party members.
Two months after this bombing, another major attack shook the Iranian capital; a bomb was embedded in the room where government cabinet meeting was held, killing the newly elected President Rajai and Prime Minister Bahonar. One of the members of MEK staff later confessed to the assassination campaign by MEK that killed up to ten thousand innocent civilians in a span of six months (7).
Cooperation with Saddam against Iran
After these deadly attacks, MEK moved to Iraq in 1986 and allied with Saddam in his offensive against Iran. With this act of treason, they lost all favor in Iran (8) and became a subject of hate among all Iranians (9). This feeling of hate was to such a degree that around this same time, the group developed the undesirable nickname of Munafiqeen or Hypocrites.
In Saddam’s war against Iran, the Munafiqeen provided Iraq with intelligence and even attacked Iran militarily by an army of MEK members. They were also an asset for the Iraqi dictator when the time came for the bloody crackdown of the Iraqi Shia and Kurdish populations (10). Press reports cite MEK leader Maryam Rajavi encouraging MEK members to ‘take the Kurds under your tanks'(11). This terrorist organization was backed by Saddam until 2003.
U.S. recognized MEK as a terrorist group but trained them as well
Based on these facts, US State Department put the MEK on their list of international terrorist organizations on October 8, 1997. Since 2010, this terrorist group’s henchmen have assassinated four senior nuclear scientists in Iran.
Later, it was revealed by a 2012 NBC News report that MEK’s brutal assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists has been committed via “training and arming by Israel’s secret service” (12). The report also conveyed that what was being said by US officials confirmed the same “charges leveled by Iran’s leaders”(13) about the Israeli involvement in the killings in Iran.
Later it was revealed that the US was also behind these terrorist assassinations by provided intelligence to the MEK (14). Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh revealed in an interview with Democracy Now that the Bush administration secretly trained the Mujahedin-e Khalq terrorist group when it was still included on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorists. Writing for The New Yorker magazine, Hersh reported that:
“The US Joint Special Operations Command trained operatives from Mujahideen-e-Khalq, or MEK, at a secret site in Nevada beginning in 2005.” (15)
Later it was revealed that this training was held at Department of Energy’s Nevada National Security Site, located about 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas (16).
Apart from its terrorist credentials, MEK has also developed cult-like characteristics. Far from being democratic, it is run in an autocratic style by a husband and wife who have fostered a cult personality. The MEK leader claims to emulate the Prophet Mohamad. Some of its members left the group and returned to Iran based on an amnesty offered to the group members by Iranian officials. These former members talked about torture and long periods of confinement for disloyalty.
Human rights abuses (17) in MEK camps also included physical abuse, lack of exit options, forced celibacy, emotional isolation, extremely degrading peer pressure, forced labor, sleep deprivation, intense ideological exploitation and isolation (18).
MEK Bribed Congress and US officials for being delisted
Besides these killings and MEK’s recent terrorist activities (19) in Europe, the US (20) and Asia (21), there are many other proofs (22) that point to the terrorist nature of this group confirming that MEK has not abandoned violence. US Department of State, in its 2008 report (23) mentions MEK as a terrorist organization and this is contrary to the claim made by MEK members at the time that they had renounced violence.
But in the end, the United States terror delisted this group, despite recognizing their history of terrorist activities and allegations of abuse against its own members (24). This move unfroze MEK’s millions of dollars of blocked assets, which were used by the group to further lobby the US Congress (25).
It is quite noteworthy that US officials (26) received funds to support MEK even while this group was still on the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (27). According to internal reports, the list of names of such officials makes a long list to ponder (28). Those members of Congress who received money were the ones who also pushed for the terror delisting of the MEK (29).
American politicians were paid to deliver speeches in support for the MEK terrorist group and to claim that this group was actually an opposition to the ruling elected government of the Islamic Republic of Iran rather than a terrorist group with a record of assassinating almost 17,000 innocent Iranians (30). This number makes Iran on of the biggest victims of terrorism in the world.
Former Democratic National Committee chairman, Ed Rendell has openly declared that he has given about eight speeches in support of delisting MEK and has been paid a total of $150,000 or $160,000 for it (31). In an article mentioning the names of American officials guilty of taking a pro-MEK stance, Aljazeera reports (32):
“George W. Bush’s Attorney General Michael Mukasey has described MEK members as ‘courageous freedom fighters”. President Barack Obama’s former national security advisor, General James L. Jones, gave a speech at an MEK conference dominated by non-Iranians. Their events have also been attended by former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, former NATO supreme commander Wesley Clark and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.”
The US support for this hated group added to a more feeling of distrust among Iranians toward the U.S. government.
1. MEK leaders also forthrightly declared that Muslims should learn from such countries as Russia, and should be generous enough to grant revolutionary Marxists the ‘respect they deserve’. See Abrahamian, Ervand. 1989. The Iranian Mujahedin. New Haven: Yale University Press. P. 125. https://books.google.com/books?id=jqTzo8N-dyEC&pg=PT125&lpg.
2. Masters, Jonathan. Mujahadeen-e-Khalq (MEK). Council On Foreign Relations. (Online) July 28, 2014. http://www.cfr.org/iran/mujahadeen-e-khalq-mek/p9158.
3. Mousavian, Seyed Hossein and Shahidsaless, Shahir. Iran and the United States: An Insider s View on the Failed Past and the Road to Peace. New York, London, New Delhi, Sydney : Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2014. p. 77: https://books.google.com/books?id=ppe9AwAAQBAJ&pg=PA77&lpg.
4. Slavin, Barbara. Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S., and the Twisted Path to Confrontation. New York : St. Martin’s Press, 2009. p. 168: https://books.google.com/books?id=Mc-oRlP6_fEC&pg=PA168&lpg.
5. Kendall, Wesley, Siracusa, Joseph M. and Noguchi, Kevin. Language of Terror: How Neuroscience Influences Political Speech in the United States. Lanham, Boulder, New York, London : Rowman & Littlefield, 2015. p. 92: https://books.google.com/books?id=yD19CAAAQBAJ&pg=PA92&lpg. and also see: US War on Iran Takes Bizarre Turn. US Covert Support to Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK). Global Research. (Online) October 26, 2014. (Cited: 09 15, 2015.) http://www.globalresearch.ca/us-war-on-iran-takes-bizarre-turn-us-covert-support-to-mujahedeen-e-khalq-mek/5410006
6. McGreal, Chris. Q&A: what is the MEK and why did the US call it a terrorist organisation? The Guardian. (Online) 09 21, 2012. (Cited: 10 10, 2015.) http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2012/sep/21/qanda-mek-us-terrorist-organisation.
7. Mosavian, Op. Cit., p. 78
8. Amoei, Shawn. Silencing the Moderate Middle. The Huffington Post. (Online) 03 08, 2011. (Cited: 10 10, 2015.) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shawn-amoei/silencing-the-moderate-mi_b_917309.html.
9. Rezaian, Jason. Washington’s dangerous (and deluded) support for the MEK. Foreign Policy. (Online) 03 02, 2011. (Cited: 10 10, 2015.) http://foreignpolicy.com/2011/03/02/washingtons-dangerous-and-deluded-support-for-the-mek.
10. Rubin, Elizabeth. The Cult of Rajavi. New York Times. (Online) 07 13, 2003. (Cited: 10 10, 2015.) http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/13/magazine/the-cult-of-rajavi.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm.
11. Rubin, Elizabeth. An Iranian Cult and Its American Friends. The New York Times. (Online) 08 13, 2011. (Cited: 10 10, 2015.) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/14/opinion/sunday/an-iranian-cult-and-its-american-friends.html.
12. Richard Engel and Robert Windrem, “Israel Teams with Terror Group to Kill Iran’s Nuclear Scientists, US Officials Tell NBC News,” NBC News, February 6, 2012, http://rockcenter.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/02/09/10354553-israel-teams-with-terror-group-tokill-irans-nuclear-scientists-us-officials-tell-nbc-news
14. Kelley, Michael B. US Special Forces Trained Foreign Terrorists In Nevada To Fight Iran. Buisness Insider. (Online) 04 09, 2012. (Cited: 10 10, 2015.) http://www.businessinsider.com/iran-terrorist-organization-trained-by-us-in-nevada-2012-4.
15. Hersh, Seymour. Training Terrorists in Nevada: Seymour Hersh on U.S. Aid to Iranian Group Tied to Scientist Killings. Story. New york; http://www.democracynow.org/2012/4/10/training_terrorists_in_nevada_seymour_hersh: Democracynow.org, 04 10, 2012.
16. Kelley, Op. Cit.
17. Human Rights Watch, No Exit: Human Rights Abuses Inside the Mojahedin Khalq Camps, 18 May 2005, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/45d085002.html (Cited: 10 10, 2015.)
18. Goulka, Jeremiah, et al. The Mujahedin-e Khalq in Iraq; A Policy Conundrum. Santa Monica, CA : Rand Corporation, 2009. ISBN 978-0-8330-4701-4 http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2009/RAND_MG871.pdf
20. U.S. Depatment of Justice. Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) Criminal Investigation. Los Angeles : FBI, 2004. 90024: Avalaible at: http://www.niacouncil.org/site/DocServer/FBI_Report.pdf.
21. Bomb suspects ‘were anti-Iran exiles’. Bangkok Post. (Online) 02 19, 2012. (Cited: 10 18, 2015.) http://www.bangkokpost.com/lite/breakingnews/280604/bomb-suspects-were-anti-iran-exiles.
22. Horton, Scott. MEK Threatens Antiwar Radio Guest for Calling Them Terrorists. 08 07, 2011. (Cite: 09 20, 2015.) http://antiwar.com/blog/2011/08/07/mek-threatens-antiwar-radio-guest-for-calling-them-terrorists/
23. Country Reports on Terrorism. Washington : US Department of State, Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, 2008. Available at: https://goo.gl/8ceNGF.
24. Delisting of the Mujahedin-e Khalq. U.S. Depratment of State. (Online) September 28, 2012. (Cited: September 15, 2015.) Available at: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2012/09/198443.htm.
25. WikiLeaks. Iran: Despite UK Court Ruling, Hmg Will Keep Its Distance From MEK. The Telegraph. (Online) 02 04, 2011. (Cited: 10 18, 2015.) Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/wikileaks-files/london-wikileaks/8305046/IRAN-DESPITE-UK-COURT-RULING-HMG-WILL-KEEP-ITS-DISTANCE-FROM-MEK.html.
26. McGreal, Chris. Iranian exiles, DC lobbyists and the campaign to delist the MEK. The Guardian. (Online) 09 21, 2012. (Cited: 10 18, 2015.) Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/sep/21/iranian-exiles-lobbyists-delist-mek.
27. Greenwald, Glenn. Five lessons from the de-listing of MEK as a terrorist group. The Guardian. (Online) 09 22, 2012. (Cited: 10 18, 2015.) Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/sep/23/iran-usa.
28. Peterson, Scott. Iranian group’s big-money push to get off US terrorist list. The Christian Science Monitor. (Online) 08 08, 2011. (Cited: 10 18, 2015.) http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2011/0808/Iranian-group-s-big-money-push-to-get-off-US-terrorist-list.
29. Schulberg, Jessica and Ahmed, Akbar Shahid. Why Congress Is Embracing Former Iranian Terrorists. The Huffington Post. (Online) 04 30, 2015. (Cited: 10 18, 2015.) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/30/congress-mek-maryam-rajavi_n_7182400.html.
30. Newton, Michael. Famous Assassinations in World History: An Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, Denver, Oxford : ABC-CLIO, 2014. p. 27. Available at: https://books.google.com.sg/books?id=F4-dAwAAQBAJ&pg=PA27&lpg.
31. SHANE, SCOTT. U.S. Supporters of Iranian Group Face Scrutiny. New York Times. (Online) March 13, 2012. (Cited: September 15, 2015.) http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/13/us/us-supporters-of-iranian-group-mek-face-scrutiny.html?_r=0.
32. Ramsey, Jasmin. Iranian terrorist group has close US allies. AlJazeera. (Online) Agust 04, 2011. (Cited: September 15, 2015.) http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/08/201184132732146192.html.
In its campaign in the United States, the MEK has made an alliance with the neoconservatives and the Israel lobby. Taking advantage of the atrocities committed by the Iranian government in the aftermath of the controversial 2009 presidential elections, the neoconservatives and their allies have sponsored six conferences over the past several months in Europe and the U.S. to prop up the MEK as the leading alternative to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Such infamous figures as John Bolton and former CIA director R. James Woolsey support the MEK. Bolton has said repeatedly that the U.S. must bomb Iran and support the MEK. The neocons also channel their support for MEK through conservative groups such as the Iran Policy Committee (IPC). An investigation published by Jim Lobe’s Lobelog in September 2010 revealed that the IPC has shared an address, accountants, and some staff with multiple organizations that either fronted for or had direct ties to Iraqi con man Ahmed Chalabi‘s Iraqi National Congress — the same organization that fabricated much of the bogus intelligence that neocons used to garner support for the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The MEK has also set up several front organizations. The National Council of Resistance (NCR), its political arm, is not listed as a terrorist organization. Near East Policy Research and Strategic Policy Consulting, two “consulting companies” headed by longtime MEK members and spokesmen, lobby for the MEK. The Council for Democratic Change in Iran provides cover for political figures to support the MEK without being directly associated with it. It invites politicians to speak at its gatherings without telling them that they are an MEK front group, and it pays the speakers honoraria so large that it’s difficult for them to resist. Conservative academic Raymond Tanter, who founded the IPC, is an example. In a speech to the CDCI, Tanter said, “To say that the only route in Iran is the nonviolent route of Gandhi and King is to misunderstand the nature of the theocratic regime in Tehran.” Former CIA operative and IPC staff member Clare M. Lopez is another MEK supporter.
The MEK lobbying campaign has also made inroads among mainstream figures who probably know nothing about its past. Howard Dean, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, is one. President Obama’s former National Security Adviser Gen. James L. Jones is another. Others include Bill Richardson, former energy secretary and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; Michael Mukasey, attorney general under President George W. Bush; Tom Ridge, former governor of Pennsylvania and homeland security secretary under Bush; Gens. Peter Pace and Hugh Shelton, former vice chair and chairman, respectively, of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Louis Freeh, former FBI director; Lee Hamilton, former Democratic congressman; Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA; Gen. Anthony Zinni, former commander of the Central Command; Frances Townsend, homeland security adviser in the Bush White House; and Brad Sherman and Dana Rohrabacher of the House of Representatives.